Under the mandate of heaven, the Zhou will oversee an era of social, philosophical, and cultural growth the likes of which the world has never seen.

In the 11th century BCE the Shang dynasty in China was overthrown by the Zhou dynasty, who would then remain in power for nearly 800 years, the longest reign in Chinese history. The era is composed of two periods: the first known as “Western Zhou,” which spanned the period from 1045 until 771 BCE, and the second known as “Eastern Zhou,” which ended in 256 BCE when the last Zhou king was forced into exile.

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The origin of the Zhou dynasty is vague and has produced many legends. It was likely around 1045 BCE that the future King Wu overthrew the Shang king. The vast lands that were conquered were then divided up between members of the royal family and the nobility, resulting in the creation of principalities. Over time these principalities became increasingly powerful, while the power of the Zhou kings declined irreparably. The provincial lords soon began fighting each other and the kingdom descended into endless conflicts. The end of the Zhou dynasty is also divided into two periods: the “Spring and Autumn period” (722–481 BCE) and the “Warring States period” (481-221 BCE). The first of these saw the rise of great philosophers such as Confucius and Laozi. It was at this time that schools of thought emerged that have had a lasting impact on culture in China and its neighboring kingdoms. In the second period, constant fighting between the various states led to the collapse of the Zhou dynasty and the advent of a new dynasty, the Qin, which would unify all of China.

Did you know?

The concept of the Mandate of Heaven began during the Zhou dynasty and would be used throughout Chinese history to prove the legitimacy of the ruler. Anointed by Heaven, Sons of Heaven were seen as rewarded for virtuous behavior or punished for poor actions, a concept that was eventually used to justify overthrowing rulers.